As many of you celebrated the New Year and the New Millennium, you probably developed your list of New Year's resolutions.

Many Americans have New Year's resolutions not only for personal rewards such as weight loss, but also for self-development reasons to enable them to become more successful in their career.

Amazon and Barnes and Noble's web sites have thousands and thousands of on-line orders for books that promise success in the workplace, by suggesting rules to follow and behavior modifications. All of these "How to Become Successful" books are big-ticket purchases as the New Year begins.

Frequently, these success books talk about the importance of developing a powerful network, or knowing the right people in the right places. Books, seminars and workshops are in demand on the subject of networking, yet many omit the key factor in how to meet the right people in the very best way possible - volunteerism.

The fact is, if you want to meet the most powerful Pittsburgh community leaders and/or business executives, you should attend a fund-raiser for a worthwhile charity, or volunteer your services to the United Way, Epilepsy Foundation of Western PA, NCCJ, or the literally hundreds of Pittsburgh not-for-profit organizations seeking business professionals to offer their services. You may be assured to meet the real "movers and shakers" in the Pittsburgh community.

Many business people believe that networking, or linking to "power people", is done by attending one network luncheon or sending a business card. Networking is building a relationship, not distributing a business card. A successful business leader will have a greater desire to build a relationship with someone who gives back to the community - a volunteer.

Volunteerism is one of the greatest ways to build a network that counts. Executive search firms have frequently been asked about an individual's commitment to volunteerism, and many corporations have made this a key question used, when interviewing for management trainees. There are several reasons why volunteerism will help any individual who is seeking employment or who is currently employed.

  • Volunteerism helps to develop workplace skills.
    If unemployed, serving as a volunteer provides an individual with projectexperience, training experience and/or speaking opportunities. You will have opportunities to develop or manage an initiative to provide training. These types of opportunities can help you develop skills that you will use in the business world.
  • Volunteerism provides a tremendous opportunity to meet business and community leaders.
    If you are currently employed, the opportunity to meet a powerful businessperson is very likely, if you are willing to give back to the Pittsburgh community and purchase a seat at a fund-raiser. You could be sitting at a table with a CEO, Executive Vice-President, or community leader who could end up being the key to a future opportunity for you. If you volunteer to work on the Day of Caring for the United Way, you may be painting a house side-by-side with the CEO of a major corporation in Pittsburgh.
  • Volunteerism helps an employee or a student gain a much greater appreciation for diversity in the workplace.
    When you volunteer to offer your services to any organization, you will probably be working with people with different ethic, racial and gender backgrounds and/or with people with disabilities. Understanding and appreciating diversity in today's work environment is a key to being a successful manager or leader.
  • Volunteerism is a way to develop public speaking skills.
    The number one fear the American public stated in a national survey is not death - it is public speaking. Without fail, you will be asked to give some type of presentation in your business career. If this is your fear, start volunteering as a public speaker at technical schools, high schools, not-for-profit organizations, your church or synagogue. From the Girl Scouts of America, to the Rotary Club, to the Pittsburgh Disability Employment Project for Freedom, every organization needs volunteers for public speaking. This one skill that you will develop as a volunteer, will help advance your career enormously.
  • Volunteerism will help you gain credibility in the Pittsburgh community and in the workplace.
    You cannot get help from someone you need in the community without credibility. You will not receive access to who you may view as a Pittsburgh community leader by entitlement; you will earn it through respect. Jim Roddey, our new County Executive for Allegheny County, stated in his Inaugural Address on January 3, 2002 that Volunteerism will be a cornerstone in his new administration. He has developed a volunteer department. His initiative is called "Step Forward - Go to work for your county to help others". There are billboards throughout the Pittsburgh area asking for volunteers for this program.

This year if you want to develop your skills and develop a powerful network, add volunteerism to your list. If you cannot think of where to start, try calling the number listed on those billboards - 1-800-Volunteer.